Bob Neal

Sometimes, no matter how much one wants to move on, something remains to be dealt with from the previous topic.

So it is with the mid-term elections. As you probably know, I ran for the Maine House of Representatives. Though I lost, I found a great deal along the campaign trail for which to be thankful in this season of gratefulness and gluttony.

So, I reflect on the year past and especially on the election that controlled my life in 2022.

It’s not enough to say, as I did last week, that democracy isn’t dead. As the unsung clerks, judges and supervisors continued counting ballots this week, it became evermore clear that democracy not only lives but thrives. Americans spoke with their feet, trooping to the polls or to pre-Election-Day voting spots to revitalize democracy. For this I give thanks.

A segment of that voting population that deserves singular praise is young people, who notoriously don’t vote often. Last week, Generation Z stepped up. The Philadelphia Inquirer estimates that 27% of Gen Zers voted. Not impressive against the nearly two-thirds of old fahts, such as me, who vote. But far above the usual 20%. For the young people turning out more than usual I give thanks.

Of the 1,300 conversations I had with voters, a few stand out. I visited the oldest resident of Mount Vernon in September, when she proudly told me that she would turn 97 on Oct. 30. I told her I’d be back on her birthday, and I was. That day, I wished her a happy birthday and asked her to invite me for Oct. 30, 2025, when she turns 100. “I’m already planning the party,” she said. “And you’re invited.” For her spirit, grace and optimism, I give thanks. (I didn’t use her name here because our talks were private and I don’t have OK to publish them.)

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Another voter caused a rare moment of fear. As I worked from the list of registered voters in Mount Vernon, I pulled into a long driveway, stopped to consult my list to see whom I was visiting, and looked up to see a pickup truck bearing down on me from the other end of the driveway. I backed out and moved to the next driveway. I looked back as I walked to the house and saw the pickup blocking my exit. I hung my flier on the door knob and turned around to return to my car, uncertain what to do if the pickup were still there. It wasn’t.

On Election Day, a voter asked me if I drive a small red car. I do. He said he had seen me enter his driveway as he left to pick up his daughter. He said people had gone through his mailbox, so he was suspicious and followed me. When I hung a flier on his neighbor’s door, he figured I was campaigning, and he left. He didn’t apologize for scaring the daylights out of me, but he explained, and I accepted the explanation. We shook hands and went our ways, he to vote, I to greet voters. For his explaining his concerns and easing mine, I give thanks.

To finish with the election, one evening in Belgrade I stepped back on a voter’s porch, stepped on an empty flower pot and tumbled down the steps, breaking my fall with my left arm. The voter was at my side in a split-second.

She is a physician, recently moved to Maine from Pennsylvania, who put her skills to use. She tested me for range of motion, examined my fall-stopping hand for obvious breaks, etc. I was fine, though my wrist ached the next day, and apologized for breaking the flower pot. I don’t know how she voted, but I lost Belgrade. For her compassion and skills, not to mention my good fortune in having chosen a physician’s house for my big fall, I give thanks.

Another sign of our democracy’s vitality. The case has been made that we would not have defeated Japan so soon in World War II had it not been for the Navajo Code Talkers. Now, at long last, a museum is being built to honor the 400 or so Navajo who developed an unbreakable code based on the Navajo language.

On the radio the other day, I heard Peter MacDonald, a Marine and one of three surviving code talkers, tell of being among the 29 who created and implemented the code. The message that stood out was his saying we should use our diversity to make America stronger, not to divide it.

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His words reminded me that time and again, polls have shown that the Americans who have least benefited from our abundance are often those who most often express our basic values. Black Americans, indigenous Americans and poor white Americans are more likely to believe in our basic rights and freedoms, including the importance of democracy itself. For their standing by our best instincts, rather than our worst, I give thanks.

Much has been written about the decline of the traditional news media. Most of it misses most of the points. Now, Bill Fox, a Canadian, has published “Trump, Trudeau, Tweets and Truth,” a book that goes into the deep reasons that our traditional media no longer determine what we think and talk about.

His keen analysis has me going back time and again to reread sections, always finding more nuance and meaning on the second reading. I have just begun his final section, about how to construct a reliable and relevant news media. For Bill Fox and his sharp analysis, I give thanks.

I also give thanks for rediscovering Bill. When he and I shared an office at the Montreal Gazette, I spent many a morning learning about Canadian politics and government from him. Bill went on to be a cabinet-level officer in the Canadian government, to earn a PhD and to become a fellow at Massey College of the University of Toronto.

By any measure, not a bad life for a boy from Timmins, Ontario, who grew up believing his only job option would be mining gold.

Bob Neal raised turkeys for a living for 30 years. He remembers all too well the grueling days of slaughter for Thanksgiving. Now, he gratefully cheers on the others doing that job. Neal can be reached at [email protected].


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